What to do when your career is sidelining your education


“When you start making money, work just becomes more interesting than having to go to school. It’s that pay cheque,” I said to my dad.

“I know, I was there!” he laughed. “I know exactly what you’re talking about. When you see money coming in like that, you don’t want to continue with school anymore.”

Working and going to school at the same time can be overwhelming, but once opportunity knocks it may be necessary to pursue it to get your foot in the door and be on your way to a meaningful career.

For the past four years, I’ve been juggling a corporate career in advertising and marketing and, at the same time, trying to finish a degree in writing.

Often enough, the lure of a steady pay cheque can prevent students from finishing their studies — why bother going on when you’ve already got a job and school will just slow you down?

My problem was that I had already taken a year off. By complete chances of fate, I landed a job with an interactive marketing and advertising firm. When my sabbatical from school ended — I promised my parents to only stop school for a year — I juggled both work and school. I didn’t want to give up that pay cheque.

The real problem was in juggling commitment with priority. I tried to figure out how I could take a full course load and still continue to earn a full-time salary.

After working so hard, I really didn’t want to take a pay cut. Luckily, my employer was OK with me attending school and going to work. However, the catch was that I had to make sure my commitments at work were met. They weren’t going to cut my salary, but I had to keep up with my responsibilities.

Now, this isn’t the most conventional of methods and not all employers are like this, but it’s always a good thing to inquire about it and try to negotiate a system that works for both of you.

Your employer probably won’t say no to nurturing a budding mind, especially if it can benefit the company further on down the road. Remember — to your boss you are an investment and your employer will probably make some sort of accommodation.

If you’re lucky, they might even pay for your schooling. In the end, it’s an investment they can earn back from you.

I made another change to how I was going to go about doing things: I cut down my course load.

For a lot of people, this move isn’t exactly ideal because it means taking more time to finish your degree. I cut my course load down to only three classes, managing two days of school a week.

I’ll admit that stretching out my time at school wasn’t the highest priority, but it helped me in the long run. After spending a year away from school my grades were the best they had ever been and it was because I wasn’t trying to have my hand in every jar possible. I realized that easing my course load let me focus better on school and give just as much commitment to my job, maybe even more.

It’s not always easy. There are stressful times where the pressures of my job get to me and there are nights when I get home and don’t want to move a finger — even when school work is sitting there waiting to be finished. It’s all about discipline, and I can tell you now: if you don’t have the discipline, then I don’t recommend you try it.

But I’m not saying you should just give up. If you’re going to try to get your foot in the door of an employment opportunity and continue learning at the same time, I suggest you make sure you can pull your weight. It’s not easy.

In these trying economic times, a lot of you might be reading and saying, “Well, that’s easy for you to say — I don’t even have a job,” and that’s OK. If you’re like many without a job, the opportunities are still open.

Internship, freelance and part-time positions in all fields are still there — it’s just a matter of proving yourself. If you’ve got the discipline to do well in school, then a prospecting employer will see that. Regardless of the crumbling financial state of our world, industries are still growing. They’re just growing at a slower rate. Don’t be discouraged, just keep looking.

If you think you’re in a position to start experiencing the real world to get a head start on the pack, approach your human resources department or boss and see what you can come up with.

Remember that both sides will have to negotiate a fair agreement and if it means taking a pay cut or stretching out your studies, don’t be discouraged. In the end, the experience you will gain from both worlds will prove beneficial in the long run.

You’re a long term investment, and long term investments take time to mature. There’s no point trying to jump in and out of holes, you’ll just fast track yourself to nowhere.